Lieutenant Wilson Nieves grinned. "Thirty-five."
"Crap, I only had twenty," said Lieutenant (jg) Gregory Aspinall in disgust.
"Forty-two," said Lieutenant Petra Bartlet gleefully.
"Forty-seven," added Doctor Sovera.
"Sixty-one," Lieutenant Commander Ariel Elannis said proudly. "Pay up."
Greg shook his head. "What about the captain?"
Ariel frowned. "The captain doesn't count."
"I'm sure she'll think differently," replied Sovera. "After all, this is quite a considerable pool you've generated."
Wilson agreed with a nod.
Ariel considered this briefly, then replied with a pout on her lips. "Fine, but if she trumps sixty-one, then I'm going to scream foul."
"She's going to trump that, guaranteed. She has all ours plus hers."
"That's why I say she doesn't count."
The doors to the observation lounge parted to admit Captain Krystine Leone, who took her customary seat on the side of the table, rather than at the head of it. "Good morning, everyone. We're all set for arrival, I trust?"
With the exception of Sovera, all the other officers fixed a pointed glare at Ariel.
Leone picked up on it instantly, choosing to join them in their scrutiny of her acting executive officer. "Ariel? Something going on?"
Ariel scratched at her neck, looking away from the senior staff and muttering, "Not really."
"Commander," said Wilson sharply.
"All right," she hissed at him quickly. To Leone, she explained, "We've formed a little pool to find out how many questions were transmitted by Starfleet Intelligence upon each of our mission reports."
A slow smile spread on the captain's lips as Ariel spoke. Her tone casual, Leone asked, "Who won?"
"Right now, Ariel has the lead," offered Wilson helpfully. "However, we were waiting on your arrival to determine if she is the winner or not."
Leone arched her eyebrows in the Vulcan’s direction. "Sovera, I can't believe that you've consented to gamble."
The doctor inclined her head. "I found the commander's proposition to be logical. Gambling is not without its merit."
Everyone turned to look at him.
"What?" he asked with a shrug. "I just find it funny to hear that coming from a Vulcan."
"If you got Sovera to gamble, it must be something worth gambling for," noted Leone. "What's the prize?"
The officers all looked at one another, as though they shared an unspoken conversation. With a pointed glare from Wilson, Ariel relented, "The prize isn't money, per se... and I want to note that I don't condone slavery, but the prize was a set number of hours of work in winner's respective department."
As the Federation didn't pay Starfleet officers, Leone often found herself impressed by the modest economy did emerge on starships. In this case, it seems time was the commodity of choice. "I see," said the captain. "In that case, I believe that I'm the winner and you're all the losers. Since my department is this ship, you're all to give me those hours in the course of your duties."
Wilson let out a held breath. "Oh, thank God! I didn't want to have to be at Ariel's beck and call for eight hours."
"Indeed," said Sovera with a nod. "Although I would have greatly benefited from assistance in my laboratory."
Greg's face contorted into an expression of distaste. "No offense, Doctor, but I'm glad you didn't win."
"I'm sorry to spoil your fun," replied Leone, "but we're docking at Starbase 310 in a few moments and I wanted to get you all in the same room to discuss a few things before we take on the rest of our crew."
The jovial atmosphere within the observation lounge vanished as the captain brought some official business to the table.
"First, I'm making a change to the senior staff. I've already sent word by subspace to Lieutenant Hunter that his services will no longer be required," said Leone as she settled her gaze upon their acting security chief. "Ariel's made it clear that I would be blind not to realize what an asset you were to us this last week, Wilson. If you want it, the job is yours."
Wilson nodded as soon as she stopped speaking. "Absolutely, sir. Thank you!"
"No, Wilson... thank you
. You might not have been my first choice, but you are the correct one."
Greg placed a hand on Wilson's back as the new security chief spoke with conviction, "I won't let you down, sir."
Leone smiled. "I know you won't. Your transfer is made permanent, effective immediately."
"Congratulations, Willie," Ariel said with a wink.
Wilson chuckled. "Thank you, Commander."
"Now that the good news is out of the way, here's some not-so-good news," said the captain. "As you're aware, the means of our return may have skirted a few violations of Starfleet regulations. Namely, the Prime Directive. As all of our official after-action reports required so many additional queries by Starfleet Intelligence, I have been informed that the Office of the Inspector General of Starfleet has directed one of its officers to come aboard as soon as we dock."
Ariel narrowed her eyes at the news. "You can count on us to protect you, sir."
"No, that's not what I'm asking, Ariel. I want to make it clear to all of you that you are ordered to cooperate with the investigating officer completely," she said quietly. "If I find out that you lied to protect me, then you'll find yourself with a transfer order off my ship. And that'll be the last time we speak to each other."
Everyone seemed surprised by the vehemence of the ultimatum, with the natural exception of Sovera.
Leone continued, "If there are charges to bring against this crew, it needs to be clear that I will answer for them."
"We followed your orders, Captain," said Greg as his hand came to lay flat against the table, almost reaching out for her. "You're not alone."
The captain smiled softly at him. "Thank you, Greg, but the only thing I want to hear from you is acknowledgment of my order." She turned to look at everyone. "From everyone at this table, in fact."
One by one, each officer complied with the order, albeit reluctantly.
Except Ariel. She sat within the chair, staring out at the stars rather than look at her friend.
"Ariel?" prompted Leone.
Ariel still said nothing. Her gaze never left the viewports.
"Ariel," Leone tried again in a sterner tone.
"Krys..." replied Ariel with a shake of her head.
The captain frowned. "Commander Elannis, I require you to acknowledge my order."
Ariel looked as though she'd be slapped by Leone's stern tone. "Captain," she said finally, "I cannot, in good conscience, obey your order."
Leone sighed, defeated. Silence hung within the lounge for long moments as the assembled senior staff traded looks of awkwardness with one another. The captain rose from her seat, seeing the expression of sincerity upon Ariel's face, and did not try to press her order any further. Instead, she left the room with a single word.
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
"What're you working on?" asked Ensign Yvonne Colby, as she tried to read over the shoulder of Ensign Iris Wu. Yvonne finished her shift within the ship's armory, cataloguing the arsenal of weapons for the now-permanent chief of security, Lieutenant Nieves. Farragut
docked with Starbase 310 an hour ago and already new faces began to show up within the ship's lounge within the forward section of deck ten.
Iris looked up from her table with a grin. "Post-Academy qualifications. I've already completed the first assignment."
Yvonne wrinkled her nose as she took the seat to the left of her. "Qualifications? You know, when we graduated from Starfleet Academy, there was this slim hope that they would stop assigning me homework."
"You can take up to two years to finish them."
"And then what happens if you don't? You just remain an ensign forever?"
"No, they take away your commission," said Iris with a smirk.
"Oh, yes. It's in the handbook. Didn't you read it?"
Yvonne turned away from Iris, to hide her blush. "I was a little busy trying to figure out how to damage a ship made out of crystal."
"I was there. I found time."
"Good for you."
"All I'm saying is, if you don't pass all twelve of them within two years, you'll be calling me 'sir' for the rest of your career," Iris said, entering in her responses on the PADD. "If you pass them before that time, you earn your promotion."
"Just like that?"
"Sort of. The captain and the training officer still have to sign off, but unless you end up before the mast, it's nearly automatic."
Yvonne tsked. "I'd better get on the ball, huh?"
"Good morning, ladies," said engineering Ensign Tommy O'Day as he strode confidently toward them from the entrance. "I see we're finally filling in the ranks around here, eh?"
Yvonne rolled her eyes, but Iris gave the young man a wide smile. The latter gestured toward one of the two open chairs surrounding the table. "Would you care to join us, Tommy?"
"Don't mind if I do."
"And how are things down in engineering?"
"Busy. We had at least five new people report to engineering within the last fifteen minutes of my shift," replied Tommy. "I love meeting new people."
"Oh, yeah?" asked Yvonne slyly. "How many of your new people were women?"
Iris stamped her foot. "Yvonne, be nice!"
On the heels of her words, the lounge's ambient noise lessened noticeably as three new officers entered. One of the them was the captain, while the other was a male commander and a female lieutenant commander. All heads turned in their direction as they entered. The trio walked to an empty table in the corner and occupied it quickly.
"Whoa," breathed Yvonne. "If the hunk is our new XO, I think I'm in love."
Iris agreed with a quiet nod, appreciating the commander's form.
Tommy sat back into his chair, folded his arms and frowned.
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
Krystine Leone was in hell. Across from her, wearing a sweet expression she knew to be thin, was Tricia Hargreaves. "I have had the... uh, fortune... of knowing Tricia from a previous assignment," explained the captain as Jesse asked the question into their shared background.
Hargreaves feigned failing to recollect. "Oh, yes... it was aboard... which ship was
"The last one you served on," Leone reminded with a grin. "Victory
"Right," replied the lieutenant commander, through gritted teeth. "I remember now."
Jesse watched the mental tennis match between the two officers with a thin smile on his lips. "Well, I would like to get to my duties, sir," he said to Leone. "Should I check in with your acting exec, Commander Elannis?"
"That would be fine," said Leone with a nod. Her eyes never left Hargreaves, as they stared each other down. "She has the bridge, at present. Please let me know when you've caught up on our mission reports, and-"
"Oh, I've already read through them, sir. At least, the parts that have been declassified by Starfleet Intelligence," said Kincaid quickly. "If you'd like, I can relieve her right now."
Leone broke off her eye contact with Hargreaves to shoot him an annoyed glance. It softened immediately as the focus of her eyes changed from someone of displeasure to someone who... wasn't. "Very well. Just try to keep in mind that she's been handling that position with outstanding work. I would appreciate it if you would handle her accordingly."
"I'll keep that in mind, sir. By your leave?"
"Of course, Jesse."
Jesse froze momentarily at being called by his given name. Then again, he knew Leone kept an informal relationship with her officers through some of the scuttlebutt he picked up. The problem was that his reaction to it left him annoyed more than anything else. "Thank you, sir," he nodded. To Hargreaves, "I'll see you later, Commander."
"Commander," Hargreaves said with a slight inclination of her head.
As soon as he left, Leone fixed her gaze on Hargreaves again. "Cut the shit, Trish. Why'd they send you?"
Hargreaves' expression turned icy, as did her tone, "I prefer to be addressed by my rank, if it's all the same to you."
"I asked you a question, Lieutenant Commander
. Need I remind you of the difference in our rank?"
"Not at all, Captain
. A reminder is not necessary," she replied, every word laced with her menace.
Leone folded her arms and leaned back against the padded bulkhead. "I'm waiting."
"I am an investigator with the Inspector General's office, Captain. I am the officer assigned to Starbase 310. I was ordered to conduct this investigation."
"I would think, with your history, that you might consider recusing yourself from this assignment."
"To recuse myself would be to deprive myself of giving you some payback with eleven years' interest."
The captain lowered her voice. "I don't believe this." She sighed loudly. "The board of inquiry was pretty clear. You made a mistake. I corrected it."
"And in doing so, you sunk my career as a starship officer. I had to transfer to a staff assignment in order to stay in the service and I ended up being passed over for promotion along with my classmates," hissed Hargreaves, though her tone matched Leone's. "Everyone from my graduating class at the Academy is either a captain or a commander. I'm the only lieutenant commander left. Do you know how embarrassing that is?"
Leone narrowed her eyes. "Sometimes, things work out for the best. You were a shitty starship officer."
"Maybe so, Captain. But it's this shitty officer's hands in which your career now rests. And believe you me, you're in the deepest shit imaginable." Hargreaves shoved herself away from the table forcefully. "If I were you, I'd start packing my things. By the time this ship returns to the Starbase, I will see to it personally that you're dragged off of it in disgrace."
As she turned to leave, Leone called out, "Commander Hargreaves?"
Hargreaves turned around, wearing a self-satisfied smile. "You're going to beg me now?"
"Not at all. I was merely going to point out that you did not request my leave before departing my presence," said Leone calmly. "As befits protocol."
The lieutenant commander's expression changed from shock to one of quiet amusement. "Fine. Enjoy it while it lasts, Captain." She nearly curtsied as she asked, "May I have your permission to leave, now, pretty please?"
Captain Leone stepped out from behind the table to stand toe-to-toe with the woman. She smiled for the benefit of the crew looking in their direction and issued her order through clenched teeth. "Get out of my sight, Commander."